Monday, August 25, 2008

Times Are A Changin'

The Times They Are A Changin’ Come Nov.

My Fair Lady and I purchased our first house last July and closed mid-Sept. Right around one year later, we finally have improved it enough to where we’re satisfied with it. That’s not to say we didn’t like it to begin with. One thing everyone says who sets foot in the house is a variation on this sentence: “Wow, you’re place is so homey!”

It’s even more so now, baby.

We found out in March that we were expecting Holy Screaming Fury v.1 to release in November. Until we settle on an official title, I hath dubbed thee… Pending. We’re excited about Pending, but were more than a little nervous when we looked around Casa de Skim and realized how much work we had to do on the house prior to release. To wit:

• The designated nursery still had boxes in it from Sept.
• The office looked like Poland post Blitzkrieg, if the Nazis had used paper instead of tanks
• A grand total of four pictures were on our walls across the entire house. A large world map showing where we’ve been was hung in our main hallway when we first moved in. The other three were hung this year at my insistence. The remaining wall space was deafening in its emptiness.
• The fountain in the atrium remained hostile towards us. Whenever we plugged it in, it would grind and growl and call us names before allowing a bare trickle of water out. Said trickles would then fall over the edges and spill out onto the tile floor. Again, while the fountain would huff and puff and give me every reason in the world to kick its ass with a sledgehammer.
• The amount of empty space in our front and back yards bordered on ridiculous. After speaking with our neighbor, we learned that the previous tenant did not tend the yard as much as the tenant before them. The result was a series of gaping holes in our grass, branches from our SEVEN TREES in the front yard going every which way, and massive patches of dirt everywhere. This needed to be fixed, ASAP.
• Unwelcome boarders. We discovered in late fall of last year that several unruly squirrels in the neighborhood had long ago labeled our house a flop house. A hostel, if you will. Squirrels backpacking through North Texas were all welcome to crash at our pad for a while before moving on. I think I even saw a sign out once. Not only were they running across the ceiling through the night, but they weren’t even paying rent!

So what was the solution to all of these quandaries? Prioritizing.

That list may not be as long as my annual one to Santa (started a little early this year, Big Guy, so you may get two Fed Ex Overnights from me this year instead of just the one), but there are a load of subtleties per each line item. We have thus far fixed most every issue though, with the side benefit of my ongoing war against the bushy-tailed invaders inspiring notes for a new screenplay, and finished off the nursery and the office this weekend.

Then we figured it would be a smart thing to buy a chest of drawers from IKEA, one that would look nice and that we wouldn’t care about if Pending took up some red and yellow crayons and drew a mural devoted to Dora the Explorer on. Plus, the one we spotted a few weeks back was about half the cost of anything at genuine furniture stores. So we picked it up in the two boxes (we opted to go with the one made by the Poles instead of the Fins, a fact which I now find doubly amusing considering my earlier Poland reference was entirely off the cuff) and brought it home where I unpacked it last night.

My Fair Lady’s reaction was priceless. She walked in after I had everything unpacked and sorted accordingly, took one look and said, “Sweet merciful crap!”

I love a woman who can whip out appropriate “Simpsons” quotes.

“What? You were expecting something smaller?” I asked.

“I just wasn’t expecting so much… wow. Are you gonna be able to do all this?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “It looks fun.”

“FUN?!?!” Yes, she said it in all caps. “Do you know how many guys on The Nest would volunteer for something like this? No one.”

“Recall, dear, that I’m the freak who at five years of age complained that Santa was putting all my G.I. Joe toys together when that was something I wanted to do. My father, standing behind me unbeknownst to Yours Truly at the time, practically fainted from the combination of shock and joy at not having to work so hard every Christmas henceforth.”

What can I say? I like putting stuff together, though only to use. Models, with the exception of LEGOs, I consider a waste of my time. If I’m going to put something together, then I fully intend to use it on a daily basis for more than just a show piece. Toys, furniture, etc. all work for me. I also enjoy jigsaw puzzles, Scrabble, and long walks on the beach at night. Call me.

I managed to get about a third of the way through before sleep pimpslapped me upside the head. But on the whole it was a highly productive weekend. The office is done. The nursery itself is done, and all that’s left is furniture construction. This week will see the delivery of a genuine entertainment center with matching side tables, which will get all electronic cables off the ground and back behind locked doors so that Pending will not inadvertently strangle him/herself while gaming with Daddy.

This will be the culmination of the baby proofing necessary for Casa de Skim. We’ve been told repeatedly that nothing can prepare you for the changes in store. I disagree. I believe that the house can be as ready as humanly possible and once we throw the number of Poison Control and Dominos on the fridge, we will be set. The emotional journey is something entirely different, and one that I’m not focusing on at the moment. There are too many tangible issues on deck at present and the sooner those are knocked off the “To Do” list the better off we’ll be.

More stories to follow, especially once Pending hits release status.

PS – Regarding the fountain, the least it could have done is tell me its airway was constricted. I guess it was giving us a trial run for the last several months which we managed to fail spectacularly. “Is it supposed to sound like that?” “I don’t know, why don’t we dampen the sound in the room so it’ll quiet down.” Yeah, like that’s gonna fly with an infant. Upon taking it apart, draining it, then cleaning it out I found the water tube was bent in half. Fixed it, filled it up, works like a champ now. The fountain gave us failing grades across the board for taking so long to resolve its issues. We have filed an appeal, but the outlook is grim. More on this story as it develops.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Now Playing: Syriana

I find it amazing when a film is heralded as one of the best of "Insert Year Here" yet it succeeds only in repeating a previous film from the writer. In this case, writer-director Stephen Gaghan ripped himself off by retooling his script for "Traffic" and replaced the international drug trade with the international oil trade. Change the character names and he was good to go.

Overall, "Syriana" isn't a bad film at all, but it is one that I've seen before to the point where I knew the ending about 30 minutes in. For a film proclaimed as deep, heady, and impossible to predict that's pretty sad. I also don't understand why Clooney won an Oscar for his role. He's good, don't get me wrong, but Oscar caliber?

The film takes several branching paths so run with me for a moment. Clooney plays a burned out CIA operative who specializes in Beirut and the Middle East at large. He's conflicted about a missile sale that goes wrong right at the start, and works to regain approval from his bosses to return to the Middle East as soon as possible.

Matt Damon plays an energy analyst based out of Geneva, Switzerland, who trumpets the company line regarding oil futures. He, his wife (played by Amanda Peet), and their two sons live well based on his predictions and he's given an opportunity to sell his firm's services to a reigning Saudi emir. While at the party, a tragic accident strikes their family resulting in Damon working hand-in-hand with the emir's eldest son, played by Alexander Siddig (Yup, Dr. Bashir for you "DS9" fans).

It seems the eldest son is worried about being usurped by his younger brother who has the attention of oil interests lead by Christopher Plummer's character, a grizzled industrialist concerned only with controlling as much of the world's oil supply as possible. Meanwhile, Siddig's character wants to become emir so he can begin to instigate genuine reform in his country, and the region at large.

Naturally, other forces in the CIA and the oil industry, which is holding its breath pending a government greenlight on a merger between two massive companies with control of an untapped field in Asia, wouldn't appreciate the emir's son reforming squat. Meanwhile, two oil workers laid off begin their inexorable drift towards becoming suicide bombers.

Still with me so far?

The short of it is that every step of the oil trade is corrupt and nothing will change unless the oil runs out, or if the men in charge willingly change their practices to allow for the Middle East to implement honest reforms. What are the odds of either happening in our lifetime?

"Syriana" has a lot on its mind and it is a message worth hearing if only for the debate, but it would have been more of a landmark film had it not been little more than a carbon copy of one of the best films of the 90's.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is this thing on?

Holy crap.

Talk about time flying and so forth once you get busy. It helps when your personal life spirals damn near out of control and by that I mean it totally consumes you. So let's hit a few highlights before moving on, shall we?

1) Last year I left my job on account of not getting paid for the three months prior. That would be too many pay periods by far, for those keeping score at home. A year later that account was settled up. Ahh, liens on deadbeat property enforced by the Texas Workforce Commission are a fun tool to keep in one's back pocket.

2) While out of work, attempted to make it as a professional writer. Quickly discovered that my lack of drive for the past year and change combined with my natural ADD tendencies meant I was not ideally suited to being my own boss. This resulted in...

3) Finding a temporary job as a substitute teacher at my old high school and middle school. The middle school I went to has long since been torn down and the shiny new one standing in its place made me resoundingly angry that I lacked such awesome tools when I was there. Back in my day we still had an abacus and WE LIKED IT, DAMMIT! This job resulted in pretty consistent work there on account of hitting it off with all the kids and knowing instinctively how to corral the anarchists among them. Finally, I got to deal with people on the same devious intellectual level as my own. Teachers kept calling me wanting me to cover for them, and the kids loved hanging with me. I now have a personal resume designed by two fifth grade girls hanging on my fridge because it's too adorable. More tales will follow.

4) My Fair Lady and I went through a pretty substantial personal loss last winter only to follow it up this spring by the discovery that Yours Truly packs a .44 Magnum that has six bullets in it, punk, and not five. Our little bundle of Holy Screaming Fury is slated to arrive on or about Thanksgiving of this year. Said spawn has already shown a predilection for chocolate brownie sundaes, hamburgers, and ice cream shakes. Definitely mine. Gender is unknown and will remain a mystery until the birth, and many names have been picked out. If you have thoughts or suggestions, feel free to throw them in the pot.

5) Yours Truly obtained a 9-5ish job as a writer this year. While it's in the industry of commercial real estate, something I plum knew nothing about, I know people and I know marketing and I know how to market to people. As such, I was slick enough in my interview to land the gig and have since been working steadily as a marketing guru designing brochures, documents, and the like until recently when I inherited the metrics project from Hell. I am not a spreadsheet guy but fatefully answered yes when El Jefe asked if I knew Excel. Subsequently, I found myself building an extensive database out of Excel which brings up thoughts of suicide roughly once every 45 minutes or so. This is actually down from once every 5 minutes when the project first started. Not sure if this is good or bad progress.

6) Script writing has been extensive to say the least. Wrote a script off and on all last year then finally finished it early this. I'm looking at it right now and it is desperate need of rewriting. Ran into my old college writing professor at school during Brother G's graduation in May and said prof recalled a script I'd written for his class, and expressed his disappointment that I'd never done anything with it. I returned home, pulled it out, skimmed it, threw it out, and started rewriting it from scratch. It's nearing the end and is 100X better than the crap I threw together in 72 hours 10 years ago. He is expecting to read it by the end of this month and shall, come Hell or high water. Ideally, he will pass this on to his agent who will reward me with a sale. Or a very nasty letter saying how much better this was when it was called "Titanic."

7) Also landed a scripting job two weeks ago for an animated short film. A former co-worker rang and wanted to adapt a children's book specifically targeted at cancer patients into an animated film. The idea was to script a short story from it (the book is a series of short stories told by animals to one another), have it professionally animated, then pitch it to possible investors. I turned in the script this past Thursday and my friend read it today and loved it top to bottom. I meet with her and the animator tomorrow and hopefully we'll get something going on this.

8) Also did a rewrite on another former co-worker's short film about spies and that was a lot of fun. He offered me a wordless part as a guy who gets sniped which of course I leaped at. Then his DP got a job working as the DP on Oliver Stone's future bomb W so obviously the short was put on hold. Expect it to resume sometime this fall. Said short is planned to be shopped to various festivals and no doubt my 15 second cameo will result in a sale.

9) The house My Fair Lady and Yours Truly bought last summer continues to take shape. The nursery has been finished save for the installation of new closet doors followed by furniture. But the room is painted, a new fan/ceiling light is installed, new blinds are hung, and the crib is built all courtesy of Yours Truly. Apparently, I know how to install lights on the quick which saves a ton on paying an electrician to do it. Next up is a new entry way fixture which we should pick up in the next few weeks.

10) The future of this blog remains in doubt. While I definitely need to blog more, I'm pondering changing the name to something else. Casa de Skim was funny for me, not so much for people actually looking for something which increasingly I see the value in. I guess it depends on whether I can actually post more than once every other year. Funny enough, I've actually kept up with blog posts but they remain on my flash drive. Call it laziness on my part but the more Word docs I see on that drive the less inclined I get to transferring them to this blog. I'll do it someday. Maybe.

And that brings us up to speed, pretty much. My primary focus now that the nursery is done is the completion of this full script. I'm currently in the 70s and the story continues on at full speed. The problem I hit with the script earlier in the year was that the story ran out around page 86. I know a subsequent rewrite will help that along, but the good news for the current script is that the story hasn't run its course at all. The way things look now it should blow past page 100 easily and in theory top out around pages 110 and 115. In theory.

More as it develops...